The call came on a Friday afternoon while I was at work. It was the call every family caregiver dreads. “Your father’s lung is filling with fluid,” the nurse said. “Something must be done. But your dad says he’s not sure he wants help.” My father’s voice was weak and tired. “I just don’t know if I want to do any more,” he whispered over the phone.
After I hung up, I thought, “So this is it?”
I’d been preparing for this call for a long time. At nearly 92, my father—a man who once owned two businesses, was a leader in his church and loved to hunt and fish—was frustrated. No longer able to be active and engaged, he seemed ready to exit this life.
Yes, I was prepared for this day. I was strong. I gathered up my things to begin the three-hour trip to my hometown with my husband. I got in my vehicle, started the engine, and cried all the way there.
How can you be prepared to say goodbye to someone you’ve loved your entire life? It’s impossible.
When I arrived at the hospital, I braced for the worst. But there sat Dad, reading the newspaper and joking with the nurses. Had I heard all of this wrong? As it turns out, a diuretic was doing a good job of eliminating the fluid from his lung. Dad and I talked, and the fix seemed easier than he thought it would be. Dad agreed to a simple procedure the following Monday to help siphon most of the remaining fluid off his lung.
I called my panicked brother and sister-in-law, who live hundreds of miles away and had just returned home from a visit with Dad. False alarm.
What do you think about close calls? Has this happened to you? The false alarms take their toll, don’t they?
During the weekend, Dad and I played two games of cribbage, and we walked the halls of the hospital every day. He held court with family, friends and fellow church members, entertaining them with jokes and stories. He was weak—and still is—but stubbornly insisted on doing things for himself.
There’s something I discovered during this last caregiving episode. As much as my father seems ready for the next world—and I believe that he is, both physically and spiritually—there’s something in him that wants to keep fighting.
It’s the same determination that got him through a childhood of poverty after his family of seven lost their dad. It’s the same grit that carried the Marine corporal through eight major World War II engagements in the South Pacific. It’s the same will and determination that powered him through hard work, financial woes, and the death of his sweetheart of 53 years. Dad is a competitive never-say-die fighter, and he will be to the end.
We’ll respect his wishes for no extraordinary measures to save him, but he’ll still be ready for a new day if it comes.
And I will be ready when that new day doesn’t come for my dad. I’ll be prepared and strong. And I will cry all the way home.
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